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Distraught Obama reflects on loss

Charles Dharapak/AP

WASHINGTON — Blinking back tears, President Obama said Friday that he grieved first as a father about the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, declaring, ‘‘Our hearts are broken today.’’

“We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,’’ Obama said. Though he did not not say what that should be, his words appeared to set the stage for a renewed national debate on gun control.

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‘‘The majority of those who died were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,’’ the president said. At that point he had to pause for several seconds to keep his composure.

The scene in the White House briefing room was one of the most emotional moments of Obama’s presidency. Near him, two senior aides cried and held hands.

The massacre of 27 people, including 20 children, jolted parents and other people across the nation, and the White House was no different.

Obama began his comments with no greeting. He ended them with words of Scripture, walking away in silence. Between those, he recited the future milestones of lives lost, and had to pause again to gather his words.

‘‘They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,’’ the president said of those who were killed.

‘They had their entire lives ahead of them.’

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He ordered that US flags be flown at half-staff on public grounds through Tuesday.

Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, responded to questions about gun control by saying, ‘‘I don’t think today is that day’’ for such a discussion.

Others, however, said it was. “How many more innocent people have to die senseless deaths until we enact stricter rules that address unfettered access to guns?’’ said Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Malden, in a statement that focused mainly on extending condolences.

Mayor Michael R. Bloom­berg of New York, said, “Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action.’’

Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said more gun laws are not needed. “The more realistic discussion,’’ he said, “is how do we target people with mental illness who use firearms.’’

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